INTRODUCTION: THE TONY SOPRANO APPROACH
No More Fires
When the New Jersey crime family garbage war escalates, Tony Soprano
swoops in. He summons the two feuding lieutenants to a standup meeting,
hears them out, gets the facts, then tells them both, "All right,
fix it. No more fires." He's in, he's out. He identifies the problem,
figures out a solution, acts. Estimated time: about three and a
half minutes. Welcome to the Tony Soprano approach.
Mob Boss CEO
Tony Soprano has never read a management book. He doesn't know about
performance reviews or knowledge management, hasn't studied negotiation
tactics. Yet between panic attacks, infidelity and fits of rage,
he spends much of his time successfully managing a diverse workforce
in a treacherous-and potentially deadly-business environment.
In an age of economic uncertainty, corporate turmoil, anxiety and
downsizing, leaders are being forced to work at warp speed with
different methods, new systems and shifting teams. Mergers force
sweeping changes upon organizations, increased competition adds
pressures and problems, while downsizing, outsourcing and new technologies
cause workers to take on new functions and responsibilities. Our
jobs-and the fabric of American business-have changed dramatically
over the past decade, leaving the management mantras of yesterday
behind, piles of books gathering dust. Businesses are moving faster,
and jobs, companies, products and services are changing more rapidly
than ever before. Meanwhile employees and consumers alike are wary
of corporations and their leaders.
Managers complain that they don't have the time or resources to
manage effectively. Business leaders say they are trapped by economic
uncertainty, hostile boards, financial markets or stockholder demands
to improve short-term results. At the same time, some recent managerial
trends, such as hive-like corporate structures and flattened organizations
with no job titles or set responsibilities, are going the way of
eight-track tapes and Chia Pets.
Leaders must step up and steer new courses to get their companies
back on track and regain public confidence. They must adapt to meet
the challenges of today's business environments. And Tony Soprano
is the surprising role model for this new breed of leader. His methods
may appear unorthodox, but we can all learn strategies and tactics
from the way that he manages people, resolves conflict, negotiates
Not Since Attila the Hun
By any measure, Tony is a born leader. He has confidence and charisma,
brains and empathy, inspires loyalty and reverence, and his power
is rarely questioned. As "Paulie Walnuts" Gualtieri explains to
a stubborn wiseguy: "The Boss of the Family told you you're gonna
be Santa Claus. You're Santa Claus." The elements of the natural
leader that Tony possesses in spades are characteristics that good
leaders have shared since time immemorial. He is strong and courageous,
confident and credible. He possesses a combination of unflinching
strategic vision and the ability to get things done.
Granted, Tony is an unlikely candidate for the pages of Fortune
magazine or the Harvard Business Review. He's the boss of
a crime family, after all. But at his best he's a master at a new
kind of management style. It's unorthodox. In fact, it often flies
in the face of traditional management wisdom. Tony doesn't believe
in democratic organizations and consensus building. He believes
in authority. He delegates and allows autonomy, but he exerts pressure.
He's not open to all suggestions all the time. When Ralph Cifaretto
voices an objection to a decision made by another captain, Tony
cuts him off: "Anybody ask for your input?" The Tony Soprano approach
stresses structure, hierarchy and values. There are no metrics or
paradigms, no management goals or rubrics, only results. He doesn't
go in for peer reviews or stock options, just a slap on the back
at the Bada Bing and an envelope full of cash. And it works. His
team is cohesive, his business successful. By any measure, he is
an effective leader.
The Tony Soprano Approach
As a leader, Tony is constantly dealing with new people and new
problems. He leads during times of perpetual change and shifting
adversity, with a lot of stress and few allies. He manages effectively
despite insufficient resources and too little time. Sound familiar?
The Tony Soprano approach is new and different. But if it weren't,
and if it didn't work, no one would need this book.
The Tony Soprano approach is fast, aiming to create and save an
essential business commodity-time. In the five minutes it takes
to sip an espresso, Tony analyzes a situation, listens to the background
and arrives at a decision. Bada boom.
Today's leaders must work at warp speed, adapt to new conditions
and manage change. Being good isn't enough. You have to be swift
and nimble as well. Tony Soprano manages fast, and that's one of
the reasons he's able to manage so many different personalities
involved in so many areas of nefarious business. He doesn't waste
time; business matters are dealt with carefully and judiciously,
but always quickly. He doesn't work longer hours. Instead, he works
more efficiently and makes decisions faster.
It's Okay To Squeeze
Tony takes a hands-on, proactive approach to leadership. He expects
the best, he is demanding, and he knows how to use muscle to get
what he wants. Tony fosters autonomy, yet he also knows how to squeeze
to get results. It's called constructive manipulation, and it's
not a bad thing. Not anymore.
Tony is not a bully on a power trip. He squeezes silently, or at
least quietly, and he exerts pressure in the service of a project
or decision, not because he feels like bossing people around. Nor
does he rely on rank or his ability to intimidate. Tony will cajole,
persuade or manipulate to get the job done. Depending on whom he
is managing, Tony adopts whatever is the most effective way of achieving
his goals. He's an avuncular pal to Christopher Moltisanti, nudging,
encouraging, egging him on to self-actualization and murder. He's
a tough guy to the intractable Richie Aprile, laying down the law,
pulling rank. And when people screw up? Fuggedaboudit. Tony busts
balls. He doesn't wait; he does it now.
And good leaders don't only squeeze people. They squeeze everything.
Business plans and ad campaigns, ideas and strategies, lunch breaks
or holidays-good leaders push and question until they are the best
they can be.
Tony makes decisions fast, and they're usually the right decisions.
And he sticks to his decisions. Whether he's deciding what to do
about internecine rivalries or what to do when his daughter's boyfriend
appears in a strip club carrying a piece, Tony makes the best, fastest
decision he can based on the information available.
"A wrong decision is better than indecision," Tony is fond of saying.
Decisiveness helps him to be a more efficient leader, a better negotiator,
and a faster implementer. It buys one thing that money cannot: time.
Direct and Transparent
Uncle T favors directness, with a focus on candor not consensus
building. He has a keen sense of right and wrong, and sees things
in black and white. He listens to his team, encourages them to get
involved in discussions and decisions, but at the end of the day,
it's his way or the highway.
Tony doesn't beat around the bush, whether dealing with subordinates,
business partners or anyone else. When Uncle Junior pushes too hard,
Tony shoots him down: "Hey, I'm on the street," he says. "That's
the arrangement. Stay home, clip your coupons. Be a happy man."
He is a transparent leader, open about his feelings and goals. When
profit margins dip, he calls an executive meeting, discloses financials,
then lets them have it.
Personal and Personalized
The Tony Soprano approach is also intensely personal and focused
on people, not systems. He understands that people are an organization's
most important asset, and he prioritizes personal relationships
as the building blocks of successful teams and organizations. He
gets inside peoples' heads. He figures them out, and uses that knowledge
to communicate better and lead more effectively.
The personal nature of the Tony Soprano approach means that relationships
grow faster and deeper, and each person is treated as an individual.
Tony assesses each captain, and he delegates and organizes according
to the talents, inclinations and skills of each individual. Finding
the right role for each employee creates teams that are efficient
and function smoothly.
Organized and Calm
Being fast isn't enough. Tony knows that effective leaders must
be organized and calm. Well, most of the time. Watch Tony when a
dead body surfaces, or when there's the threat of an informer, even
when he's on a business call and his mother phones to say there's
a fire in her house. He keeps his cool, goes through a series of
steps to deal with the problem and comes up with a plan. He may
not look it on the outside, but he is calm and organized, even when
the world around him is exploding.
Trust and Loyalty
Lying means death, literally on The Sopranos, metaphorically
in relationships and on Wall Street. Even Vin Makazian, a crooked
cop, trusts Tony, telling a confidante: "At least with Tony Soprano,
you know where you stand." Tony is tough. Cross him at your own
peril. But he won't trick you, and he won't betray your trust. And
it is his transparency and trustworthiness, rather than his power
or bullying, that make him a leader worth following.
You can only succeed as a leader with the backing of a loyal team.
That's why effective leaders deserve and insist upon loyalty. They
are loyal to their team, and their team is loyal to them and to
each other. In an industry where alliances can turn on a dime and
the diminution of loyalty gets someone a bullet in the chest, Tony
is surrounded by a remarkably loyal team. He knows he must earn
respect and trust, knows he must understand the dreams and desires
of each member of his team to maintain their loyalty-and survive.
Tony is a master at delegating. That's why he's able to maintain
so many businesses and business relationships. He tells one of his
capos: "It's your job to make my job easier."
Tony delegates tasks that are not time-effective for him and functions
that allow others to grow and succeed. He rarely gets involved with
the day-to-day operations of the many businesses he owns or controls.
Rather, he manages captains and partners who, in turn, run the various
subsidiaries. The idea is simple: teach your team to fish. Empower
and train your team, and you effectively establish lasting systems
and processes, while charting a clear course for career advancement.
Tony hankers for the bygone era when rank meant everything, authority
was respected, the family was a sacred institution, and rules were
never broken. "We follow codes," he explains to Dr. Melfi, and lists
the pillars of his value system-"honor and family and loyalty."
Tony's leadership style is old school, well, new old school. He
likes structure, rules and hierarchy, especially when he's sitting
on top. He doesn't pretend that every team member has an equal say,
although he is willing to listen. He doesn't see the organization
as horizontal, hive-like, or anything other than a ladder from least
to most powerful. He manages from the top down and believes that
people must learn by doing-and climb the company ladder one rung
at a time.
Even though Tony espouses structure and hierarchy, he remains flexible.
Just as flexible manufacturing creates better products and increases
speed to market, flexible leadership results in stronger, swifter
Tony rolls with the punches. He responds and adapts. Job descriptions
change overnight. He moves people in and out of leadership roles,
hires, promotes and fires, in order to get the best fit and make
sure his team shares his vision. And Tony expects those around him
to be just as flexible, as new alliances are formed and old associates
are killed or go to jail.
Tony knows how to execute. And we're not talking about clipping
people. He produces the results he promises, makes good on his vision.
He doesn't sit around and think about getting things done. He acts.
People trust him because they know he will deliver the goods, and
that's why he's a good guy to go into business with. Like other
effective leaders, he doesn't work hard, he works well, doesn't
get lots of things done but gets the right things done. And Tony
expects his team and partners to be equally effective, to deliver
what they promise on time and on budget.
Executing well means being a captain of change, and Tony spends
a lot of time transforming the company he leads. He adopts new methods
and processes, enters markets, shuts down unprofitable arms. He
redefines Uncle Junior's role, renegotiates his percentage of revenues
and redistributes his power.
Ability and Desire
Finally, Tony leads well because he wants to lead. "I am the motherfuckin'
fuckin' one who calls the shots," is how he puts it. He has a clear
vision, a smart strategy and a plan for how to get there. He wants
his business to succeed and each member of his team to excel. He
hires well, delegates well, communicates effectively and trains
his team as well as he knows how. He inspires confidence, builds
energy and enthusiasm and sets the standards that every employee
must uphold. Sure, Uncle T doesn't always get it right. His final
attempt at constructive manipulation with Ralph Cifaretto ends not
in communication and team building, but with body parts in a bathtub.
Still, at his best, Tony aspires to a new brand of leadership and
personifies a dynamic management paradigm that is as effective as
it is timely.
How to Use this Book, or You Can't Just Whack 'Em
This book is designed for leaders and managers, people at the top
or on their way there. Whether you work in a large business or a
small one, the public sector or not-for-profit world, the Tony Soprano
approach can help you lead better and work more efficiently, effectively
If you're looking for a guide to running a syndicated crime family,
however, this book may not be right for you. For most of us, having
a cup of coffee with a business partner means exactly that: going
to a nearby Starbucks and talking shop over a latté, as opposed
to Tony's definition of having coffee with a business acquaintance.
What he really means is he chased a man onto the sidewalk and beat
the bejeezus out of him. The rest of us don't get to do that when
someone pisses us off. Nor do we get to take disloyal subordinates
on a one-way boat ride. We don't clip people who quit, or go over
to a subordinate's house to beat them up, no matter what they did.
Even if your co-worker talks to a competitor, killing the guy is
not an accepted or judicious response. You can't just whack 'em.
So, Tony Soprano on Leadership focuses on strategies, tools
and tactics that have a more universal appeal and won't result in
unexplained deaths or prison sentences. The book incorporates strategies
for leadership with specific tactics for managers, using examples
from The Sopranos and the real world. Direct and easy-to-use, each
chapter includes helpful pointers, worksheets, call-outs and rules,
as well as case studies and wrap-ups to summarize key points.